I didn’t realize it until reading this volume, but I screwed up when compiling my “Best of 2017” list. For reasons that I cannot explain, the brilliance of “Happiness” vol. 4 managed to slip my mind when I was putting things together. It stings even more because mangaka Shuzo Oshimi manages some really impressive tricks with this volume. Not only does she manage to craft an engaging and even suspenseful story while sidelining many of the core elements of the series up until now, but there’s even a real moment of genuine horror to be found here too.
I’ll admit to being concerned about the time jump at the end of the previous volume. Oshimi had left Okazaki and Gosho in some really bad places and jumping forward several years felt like a cheap way to get out of addressing their circumstances. Yet she manages to make it work here by putting in the effort to detail Gosho’s currently “normal” life. She’s got an unremarkable office job, gets along with her co-workers, and lives a fairly unremarkable life aside from that. It’s clear that Gosho still has some mental, in addition to her physical, scars from her experiences with Okazaki and Yuuki but it’s made clear to us that she’s coping with it as well as she can.
At least, until the past starts to intrude. While the vampirism which has been driving the series up until now does take a backseat in this volume, that doesn’t mean it’s been forgotten about. It’s when Gosho is reminded about one of the people she used to know back in the day, who was apparently quite busy for a time after they last saw her, that her world crumbles and she’s left unable to leave her apartment. Aside from being a well-done example of showing how the past can sneak up on you when you least expect it, the scene of Gosho’s breakdown also lets us know that the main plot hasn’t been forgotten but will be addressed in its own way.
It also paves the way for one of Gosho’s co-workers, Sudo, to play a larger role in the story. First introduced walking home from work with her, and doing some impromptu cherry-blossom watching in the process, Sudo is presented as a confident, well-meaning, nice guy. Sudo’s scenes with Gosho have genuine warmth to them, best seen when he helps her out of her apartment for the first time and in the wordless scenes which illustrate their later date. After seeing his interactions with Gosho throughout this volume, I’m about 95% sure that he isn’t a serial killer. Maybe if we got a scene or two showing what he does when he’s not helping her out or follwing her around I’d be completely convinced.
Now, the two of them going on a date does sound a bit uncomfortable after he’s been helping Gosho recover from her mental breakdown. What keeps it from being so is the fact that Sudo never comes on too strong during these scenes, does his best to respect Gosho’s wishes, and doesn’t actually present himself as her boyfriend when someone asks them about it. The fact that they do have pretty good chemistry together during their date is also a point in the relationship’s favor too.
In fact, despite Gosho’s earlier breakdown, things wind up going well enough for her that you wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it does in this volume. The way that it happens results in that one real moment of genuine horror I mentioned earlier.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before that comics have a hard time of actually scaring me. Most images can shock, disturb, or creep me out, but actual skin-crawling horror is hard to come by in comics that profess themselves to be of that genre. What usually winds up scaring me in a comic is when an utterly normal scene features something completely unnatural. The feeling of “It’s normal, BUT IT’S NOT RIGHT!” gets me every time and there’s a moment of that here. It’s a scene involving Gosho where everything looks right, and then it’s shattered in an instant by the gruesome return of a familiar face. The feeling this scene inspires passes quickly, but it still got me nonetheless.
The scene also leads Gosho to dive back into the main plot in a way that seems extremely ill-advised. I can excuse it because I can believe she’d summon the strength to do it for the sake of closure regarding the experiences of her past. That, and Sudo is in full White Knight mode once he finds out about her plans. (At least, I’m pretty sure he’s in White Knight mode and not just rushing out to kill her himself before other people do it for him.) It’s a really effective cliffhanger not just because it indicates we’re diving fully back into the main plot, but that it offers up some payoff to Gosho’s experiences throughout the volume. In the end, Vol. 6 wound up being the kind of detour that served to enrich my appreciation of the series as a whole. I can’t wait to see where Oshimi goes with this.